what's behind and underneath

Just finished a late breakfast in bed and took this photo. Not that I usually eat breakfast in bed, mind you, but Jim Williams is cheerily drilling into a wall in my house and I want to be out of the way. (If you follow that link, you can see a photo of my kitchen, front and center, opening his webpage. He does great work.). I need to pack and get on the road to Mississippi. I'm meeting Marianne at The Varsity. Ha!

But no lunch there. Instead, I'm having my ritual oatmeal and thinking about what lies behind and underneath. Underneath those cooked oats are blueberries and raspberries. Underneath the top bedcovers are many other winter bedcovers -- can you see the layers? That's how we do it around here, layers upon layers, and the heat stays way down at night.

And look at all those drawers and doors -- what's behind them, inside them? These are the sorts of questions on my mind as I turn my thoughts toward Mississippi and this weekend.
I wish I could convey the complexity of writing about 1964 Mississippi. So many folks who know about book two of the Sixties Trilogy ask me, "Have you read The Help?" and I haven't. I won't, not while I'm working on a story that also takes place in the sixties in Mississippi. My story is for young readers, and they deserve no less than adults do. They deserve a story with as much clarity and truth -- and heart -- as I can muster.

And therein lies the challenge. Chapter One of Bruce Watson's fine new book Freedom Summer gives a good overall look at what Freedom Summer was. It's good reading for you, if you want to follow me along on the journey to book two's publication. It's good reading anyway.

I was eleven years old in 1964. I spent time in Mississippi that summer with my kinfolks. I had no idea of the revolution going on around us. I only knew that the pool had closed, and so had the roller skating rink, the Cool Dip, the movie theater, the Pine View Restaurant... and no one could explain to me why.

Thirty-five years later I published a picture book I called Freedom Summer, about the summer I was eleven. Now, I'm writing a novel about (as Bruce Watson puts it) "The Savage Season that made Mississippi Burn and made America a Democracy."

There is so much nuance. There are so many layers, just like you see on my winter-made bed. There is so much love, anger, truth, ugliness, beauty, differing opinion, behind every obvious doorway. Just what WAS Freedom Summer?

The stories are not simple. Mindsets are misunderstood. Motivations were not always pure... or evil. And my heroine, Sunny, is plopped right down into the middle of the mess, in Greenwood, the headquarters of SNCC in 1964, where she must make decisions that will change her life and forever alter her history. Will she do it?
 I can't write her story without understanding, from as many valid angles as possible, the many layers of Freedom Summer. So off I go again, to Greenwood. Into the Delta.

More from Mississippi.

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